Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trying Something New Tomorrow

Just thought I'd put up a reminder that I'm live-blogging the game tomorrow. I'm going to try something new with the live-chat software, Coveritlive. I'll live-blog the game, and accept your comments into the live blog so everybody can see them in real time. That way, it'll become as much a chat that everybody can get in on as it is a live blog. I might even find time to answer a question or two, right then and there, if there's a lull in the action.

We'll try it like this, and if you guys like it, we'll continue it. I think I've got the box size issue ironed out, so that shouldn't be a problem. I'm also going to have an up-to-date scoreboard at the bottom so you'll see the latest score throughout.

Hope to see you then.

EP

Game 8 Scouting Report

GIANTS (5-2) vs. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-2)

THE TEAMS: The Giants come off two straight losses, the last to an eminently beatable Cardinals team, and are now encountering questions as to their true nature and potential as a playoff contender. Their 24-17 loss to the Cardinals last week was fueled by three interceptions by Eli Manning and a disturbing lack of offensive rhythm. A trip into Philadelphia might be just the medicine the Giants need, however, as this stands as an important division contest against a hated rival. The Eagles come off a potentially expensive Monday night victory over the Redskins, during which do-it-all RB Brian Westbrook sustained a severe concussion. The week before, however, the Eagles lost 13-9 at Oakland, an almost inexplicable misstep. The Giants remained a half-game ahead of Philadephia in the NFC East race. But only one loss separates them from a couple of blips and a full-fledged slump. This is a big one, by any measure.

THE HISTORY: The Giants lost two meetings in the Meadowlands last year, one in the regular season and their only playoff game in the conference semifinal. They'll take the memories of that 23-11 semifinal setback into Philadelphia with them Sunday, especially the one where Donovan McNabb picked up one of the Giants' sideline phones and faked a call to the coaching booth after being run out of bounds on an eight-yard scramble. McNabb picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the stunt, but was unrepentant and remained so when he addressed the media Wednesday. "No, I don’t have any regrets for doing it," McNabb said. The Giants have won their last four games at The Linc, including last year's 36-31 Game 9 victory.

THE INJURIES: Giants -- DT Chris Canty (calf), LB Michael Boley (knee), and CB Aaron Ross (hamstring) are out. WR Mario Manningham (back) is questionable. RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot and ankle), LB Antonio Pierce (ankle), and T Kareem McKenzie (groin) are probable.
Eagles -- DE Victor Abiarmiri (knee), WR Kevin Curtis (knee), LB Omar Gaither (foot), and CB Dimitri Patterson (quad and hand) are out. DE Chris Clemons (elbow), S Macho Harris (ankle), and RB Brian Westbrook (concussion and knee) are questionable. C Nick Cole (knee), G Todd Herremans (foot), DE Darren Howard (calf and ankle), WR DeSean Jackson (foot), WR Jeremy Maclin (foot), T Jason Peters (ankle and knee), and P Sav Rocca (back) are probable.

WATCH THIS: Luckily for the Giants, they always seem to play well in Philadelphia despite the ultra-hostile crowd. Those Birds should be chirping away, too, as they'll be scurrying out of the stadium after the clock runs out to either attend or watch the Yanks-Phils World Series matchup across the street. Oh, it'll be a fun-filled day in the City of Brotherly Love, with enough swearing to pollute a shipping dock.

"It's always a tough, physical game with them, with guys chirping at each other," Brandon Jacobs said. "I can't wait."

None of that has to do with on-field activity, of which there will be plenty. Start with the Eagles' defense against the Giants' offense. The Eagles were always known for the blitz under the late defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Now, they do it just as much. But they don't play zone behind it anymore. Asante Samuels and Sheldon Brown, who still hasn't wiped away images of Plaxico Burress tormenting him on the deep post, are often left on islands in man coverage. They, along with nickelback Joselio Hanson, will try to physically beat the daylights out of Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, and Hakeem Nicks as they jam at the line. But if the young receivers can find their way around a secondary that ranks ninth in passing defense (190.2 yards), they should be open for some deep throws.

Then, it will be up to Eli Manning to make those connections. He's been inaccurate the last two games, as his failed bomb out of bounds to Manningham last week showed. The coaches may rein him in as far as audibling out of runs, the better to establish the ground game behind Jacobs after a breakout game average-wise last week. But when he does take a deep shot, preferably not on third-and-2 in the second half of a tight game, he'll have to convert. It's probably better he look short this week, perhaps to tight end Kevin Boss. He could see more business than he has in a 14-catch, 196-yard season, simply because Manning may have to get rid of the ball quicker as the Eagles rush the extra man or three. Ditto for Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw coming out of the backfield. In this game, it may be better to try for the smaller chunks than the whole enchilada.

When they're not blitzing with middle linebacker Will Witherspoon, strongside linebacker Chris Gocong, or safety Quintin Mikell, the Giants' still sore offensive line will have to fend off front-four pressure from DEs Trent Cole (6 1/2 sacks) and Juqua Parker (three sacks), and Darren Howard (two sacks). They move Cole around a lot, which may be the reason left tackle David Diehl had headshots of both Cole and Howard hanging in his locker all week. He'll probably face them both.

Whether through blitz or regular pressure, the Eagles have forced quarterbacks to throw 12 interceptions so far, with Samuels leading with four. Considering Manning has thrown four in the last two games, he'll have to be more careful about trying to stick the ball into tight spots. Again, establishing the run behind Jacobs (120 carries, 464 yards, two touchdowns) and Bradshaw (80-455-3) would make the all-important play-action that much more effective.

While the Giants' top-ranked overall defense may not have to worry about concussed RB Westbrook, there are plenty of other weapons to consider. DeSean Jackson is one of the most versatile wide receivers in the league. He took an end-around last week against the Redskins 67 yards for a touchdown. His three receiving touchdowns this year went for 71, 64, and 62 yards. "He's quite a weapon," coach Tom Coughlin said.

LeSean McCoy would start in Westbrook's place. The second-rounder out of Pittsburgh ranks second among rookie running backs with 212 yards, and now leads the Eagles. He can catch the ball, too, as 19 grabs for 92 yards shows.

Jeremy Maclin and tight end Brent Celek round out a fleet receiving corps with four touchdowns between them. "They have always been really explosive on offense. Obviously adding Maclin added to the equation," defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "It gives you a treat both to the X and the Z. Everybody knows how explosive DeSean can be, plus they have other good receivers. When you have a good X and a Z it makes it more difficult for your coverage." Look for a lot of nickel and dime, since they'll probably have to dedicate a cornerback and a safety on over-under double-coverage on Jackson.

It will be encumbent on the front four to put pressure on quarterback Donovan McNabb, whose sore ribs could hurt his vaunted mobility. The good news there is that DE Justin Tuck will go against right tackle Winston Justice in the Eagles' reshuffled line. If that's not a familiar name, go back to 2007 when Osi Umenyiora treated the then-rookie fill-in like a subway turnstile. Umenyiora, who gets a more accomplished left tackle in Jason Peters, ripped Justice apart for six sacks.

After last week's punting disaster, Jeff Feagles spent the whole week refining his sideline work, and for good reason. Jackson is a great punt returner, and already has run one back 85 yards for a touchdown. Jackson has an NFC high 14.5-yard return average. David Akers is one of the most accurate placekickers in the league, but the Giants' Lawrence Tynes remains the league's leading scorer with 69 points. Domenik Hixon needs to recover from a decidedly mediocre game returning kickoffs and punts. Field position will be huge in this potential all-day brawl.

PREDICTION: Look, you didn't really think this team wouldn't lose two games this year, did you? The fact that they came in consecutive setbacks is a bit surprising, but the Giants are still a pretty decent team. Probably the best in the NFC East. The Eagles? They lost to Oakland. I'm thinking the offense is going to kick into gear again against the Eagles' blitzing defense. Giants 27-21.

GUEST PREDICTION: Mike Garafolo of the Newark Star-Ledger is a good guy and one of my favorite foils in the newsroom. Tough guy from Philly, but a real sweetheart with an appetite for a good steak and good Italian food. But really, he'll eat anything, as the baby picture on the left shows. At the moment, he's still trying to digest just how in the heck the Giants lost to Arizona. He thinks they'll rebound this week, however, 24-21, because "they've played well down there the last four seasons, often as they were going through some less-than-perfect times. To that we say, Buona Salud!!!!

EP

Friday, October 30, 2009

Manningham Or Nicks?

According to Tom Coughlin, Mario Manningham hurt his shoulder at the end of yesterday's practice, which is why he sat idle during today's workout. He'll go into Sunday's game as questionable, but Coughlin was very vague as to whether he'll start Hakeem Nicks or keep Manningham as the No. 2 receiver next to Steve Smith.

"He certainly has a big role, anyway," Coughlin said regarding Nicks. "But certainly you would expect more. But let's hold out for the best."

Manningham's problem didn't sound serious, at least as far as Coughlin was letting on.

"He went down on the shoulder and he is sore," Coughlin said.

Coughlin said Nicks is ready to go gameplan-wise, having taken all the first-team snaps today. But to tell you the truth, I wouldn't hedge about starting him at all. I'd start him. There's nothing to lose. Nicks has been consistently making big plays these last four games, and this stacks up as a potential big-play game, what with the Eagles' committment to the all-out blitz. Nicks has the hot hand right now, so Coughlin would do well to get him in as often as possible, which means starting him.

Meanwhile, Giants-killing RB Brian Westbrook spent the Eagles' practice on the sideline, and I'll be shocked to see him play in light of the concussion he suffered Monday night.

EP

OUR FIRST-EVER LIVE CHAT

Okay, already screwed up that first post. Had a Twitter feed going into it that would only add confusion to the proceedings. So we'll start anew.

Here's the chat box. Just follow the directions and join in.



EP

A Little Jacobs

Here's some Brandon Jacobs for you, talking about how the Giants will take last year's NFC semifinal loss to Philadelphia into The Linc with them, and the importance of maintaining their confidence despite consecutive setbacks.

You remember that playoff game, right? The Giants were coming off the bye thanks to their 12-4 record. Eli Manning, who had been so good during the regular season, decided to revert to Bad Eli, failing to engineer a single touchdown drive despite three trips to the Eagles' 17 in a 23-11 disaster. Manning threw two interceptions, the final one in the fourth quarter.

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Don't Forget

Just a reminder that today, noon to 12:30, is our live chat. Just look for the chat box on the entry, click in, and start filing your questions and comments. So make yourself a nice sangweech, settle back, and enjoy some real-time Giants talk. Bring your friends.

EP

There's No Slump In Ed!

It's Friday, which means my buddy Ed Valentine of Big Blue View is with us again. Here are his answers to our Q&A swap. For mine, swing over to Ed's site at http://www.bigblueview.com/.

1. Is it better or worse that the Giants are playing a hated division rival on the road following two stinkers in a row?

"Umm ... can we bring back the Chiefs, Buccaneers or Raiders for another go-round, please? Good Lord, if the Giants lose to the Eagles on Sunday I might unplug my Internet connection, smash my laptop, toss out the Blackberry and go nowhere near Big Blue View for a week. All of Giants fan-dom will be ready to climb to the nearest bridge and jump. A victory, though, and all will be well in the land of the Giants. I don't know if it's good or bad, but I know it heightens the anxiety level of the fan base. I also know the Giants need a win. If they lose a third straight game they put themselves in danger of letting the season start to slip away."

2. What is the Giants' true identity, a run-first or pass-first team?


"When you figure it out, let me know. I know what they SHOULD be. They should be a balanced team that uses the run to control the clock and physically dominate opposing defenses. I don't, however, know what they are. Opposing defenses are dictating to them right now, and taking them away from the things they do best. Down field shots are fine, and we love when they work. But, you can't keep going three-and-out by throwing incomplete balls 30-40 yards down field. Coughlin said it the other day. "Make the first down, please make the first down and then we will think about the next three calls."

3. Do the Giants need to start Hakeem Nicks?

"I don't know if he needs to start, but he needs to continue getting more time. Domenik Hixon is just not getting separation consistently as a receiver, or making plays on the ball. He's a great return man, and a so-so receiver. Mario Manningham is still learning. He can make the great play, but he drops too many balls and still runs too many bad routes. I that that Nicks should be a starter by the end of the season, and it wouldn't bother me if he was elevated to starter sooner rather than later."
4. Should Bill Sheridan play Justin Tuck inside more?


"I don't know about that. I want to see Tuck, Kiwanuka and Osi on the field together more, but neither Tuck nor Kiwi could hold up inside if they had to play in their on run downs. They aren't big enough. I would like to see the three of them move around on passing downs a little so that offensive lineman aren't sure which guy they have to block. I would also like to see Clint Sintim on the field in passing situations. If Sheridan is going to rush just four, how about Osi and Sintim -- who showed terrific rush skills from the end in pre-season -- from the ends and Tuck and Kiwanuka from the inside. Even with that I think you have to send an extra guy more often. Dictate to the offense, don't react to it."


What do you guys think?


EP

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Biggest Difference

Here's another piece of video with offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and slightly off-center guard Rich Seubert offering somewhat different views of how the Eagles' defense operates these days under Sean McDermott, as opposed to the past under the late Jim Johnson.

They still blitz, all right. Early, late, often. But the difference, Gilbride said, is that they no longer try to disguise it as they did under the wily Johnson.

Here's the video.

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Only 3 1/2 of the Eagles' 21 sacks have come from linebackers, and none from safeties or corners. But that could all change now that the athletic Will Witherspoon is there at middle linebacker.

According to tight end Kevin Boss, the real effect of all the blitzing is single coverage and the absence of the cover linebacker in the middle, thus leaving more room for pass-catching tight ends like Boss to work. That could be a plus providing the Giants can pick up the blitz and Eli Manning can get the ball off quickly.

"It's a lot easier to recognize now," said Boss, whose 14 catches for 194 yards and no touchdowns rank fourth on the team and well into the lower half of tight ends leaguewide. "If we can recognize it pre-snap, we can anticipate it better and maybe make some plays."

Looks like Boss might be in line for a big game.

EP

On Bradshaw

Most likely, Ahmad Bradshaw is going to need surgery in the offseason on his injured right foot. But for now, he'll just go with the same practice schedule as he's had the past several games:

Rest in a protective boot early in the week, limited work on Friday, and play on Sunday.

His visit with North Carolina ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson confirmed that the course of action the Giants have taken is the best way to keep him active on Sunday. X-rays revealed a fractured right fifth metatarsal (midfoot past the pinky toe). It could break through if they're not careful.

"I really didn't notice it at first," Bradshaw said. "It felt like a little bruise on the outside of my foot. It's been there since, like, a month ago."

In addition, Bradshaw is still getting over a sprained ankle.

"The ankle is here and there," he said. "It's pretty much an old fracture that we've taken care of, and that's just how it grew over. There's a couple of bone spurs and loose bones, but otherwise it's just a lot of pain. It doesn't slow me down at all."

The Giants are keeping an eye on the metatarsal fracture by resting him, and then sending him out on gameday with extra padding and orthotics inside his shoe.

"I'm pretty sure I'll feel it if it breaks," Bradshaw said. "We're doing everything possible to keep it from breaking all the way through. More than likely, I'll need an operation at the end of the year."

But as Tom Coughlin said, "Possibly, but that's a long way off."

Unless it breaks clean through.

In other injury news, LB Michael Boley did some running and took light work in individual drills. "I got in and worked on some run fits (basically low-motion positioning drills)," he said. "I'm coming along good."

Boley said it's a distinct possibility that he'll be back for the week after the bye, which comes after next week's game against San Diego. Judging by the relative activity of the two today, DT Chris Canty appears closer to playing. But both may be out until after the bye, though Coughlin said he has no concrete plans to put Canty off that long.

"It depends on what their progress report is and how emphatic the medical people are about their opinion one way or the other," Coughlin said. "We'll use good strategy and good common sense."

Antonio Pierce, out yesterday, practiced today.

EP

Practice Notes

RB Ahmad Bradshaw was back at practice, on the bike and wearing a boot, following his visit yesterday with North Carolina ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson. Also coming back to work was LB Antonio Pierce, who did not practice yesterday because of an ankle problem. CB Kevin Dockery, who missed practice for personal reasons yesterday, was also back.

Best news of the day came when DT Chris Canty and LB Michael Boley showed up in pads. As you'll see in the video, Canty participated in individual drills. Boley, though wearing his shells, was not seen taking any snaps. But that doesn't mean he didn't do anything, just that he didn't do it when the media was watching.

Enjoy the video. Note the artsy ending. I told you we're a classy joint around here.

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EP

Big Play Opps

If you ask the Giants' receivers, the Eagles have only changed slightly defensively since their new defensive coordinator Sean McDermott took the place of the late, great, beloved blitz genius Jim Johnson. They're still bringing it from all over the field.

That means there will be opportunities for big plays. And that could be good for a wide receiving corps that begun struggling after five games of mainly dominant play.

The deep shots that were being completed three weeks ago are now either falling incomplete or sailing out of bounds. Steve Smith, the NFL leader in catches after four games, has had just eight catches for 113 yards in the last two games, and hasn't scored a touchdown since the two he had in Kansas City in Week 4. After going through the first month with 34 catches, he's had just 11 the past three games.

He's seeing double coverage regularly now, and as a young talent has yet to figure out how to get loose despite it. Certainly a little one-on-one against the blitz-heavy Eagles could help him get back into the receiving groove.

"I'm being double-covered, getting more attention, which is fine," Smith said. "That opens things up for the other guys. Even just the easy routes I had success with last year and this year, now I'm being jammed by linebackers. Now I've got to be aware of that and take my game to the next level."

Mario Manningham has just 10 catches the last three. And Domenik Hixon will probably fall into the four wide receiver spot after getting a sure touchdown pass wrestled away from him last week by Dominique Rogers-Cromartie.

That leaves Hakeem Nicks as the potential go-to guy for this segment of the schedule, for good reason. He's about the only one producing. Four games, four touchdown passes, 14 catches for 297 yards. And huge big-play potential.

It's a progression offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride predicted at the beginning of the season, when he proclaimed that the individuals in the young, developing corps could change roles as the season progressed. It has happened, with the opportunities beginning with Smith, shifting to Manningham, and now, apparently, Nicks. As defenses have caught on to each, and each struggles to find the technical antidote, Eli Manning has had to find a different target. It's certainly not like the old days, when the experienced Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer recognized and worked their way through varied coverages.

This young corps has to learn. And they have to be bolstered by achievement. A couple of big plays Sunday from two or three of them wouldn't hurt, especially if they can burn experienced corners Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown, the latter of which was all but defenseless against Burress.

"They like to press coverage and bring a guy, so it's one-on-one," Smith said. "They try to put pressure on the quarterback, put a linebacker on top of you, or roll the coverage to your side.

"The corners are good, savvy guys, but sometimes they get caught with their eyes in the backfield and you can run right by them. We're not gonna be surprised if we're wide open down the field. There's gonna be plays out there."

Here are Nicks' thoughts on the matter.

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The Eagles have 21 sacks so far, and have given up 13 passes of 20 yards or more. Included among them are an 86-yard touchdown pass from Oakland's JaMarcus Russell and a 38-yard throw from Drew Brees. That's not a ton of big plays, but enough to indicate the chances will be there.

EP

Just A Reminder

In case you haven't got it circled on the calendar, remember tomorrow's live chat from noon to 12:30 p.m. Ought to be a lively one, as I know several people have some good questions lined up.

Just a warning. I've been practicing with a software that facilitates such chats, so there may be a glitch or two as we go along. This is all new to me. But right now, I think I have things down to where it should run smoothly. If not, then I apologize in advance.

You'll see a separate box on the blog entry where it's happening, and it has simple instructions for filing questions and comments. If this works well, I'm going to use the same software for my live-blogged games.

Okay. We'll have a bunch of stuff today, and I'm looking forward to our chat tomorrow. Somebody make sure to bring the soppresata.

EP

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cattin' Around, And Other Stuff

Miami uses it extensively, and they've had some success with it.

It is the Wildcat formation, a bit of trickery where the quarterback often splits out and either a backup quarterback or a position player takes a direct shotgun snap from center and runs a single-wing type option play. It's something the Giants are going to have to be leery of Sunday because the Eagles run it. Not to the extent that Miami does, of course. Nobody runs it as frequently as the Dolphins.

But the Eagles can use a tremendous mix of players in the formation. Donovan McNabb's backup Michael Vick is the main guy, but they can also throw WR DeSean Jackson, RB LeSean McCoy, and RB Brian Westbrook into it, just to name a few.

Unlike the Dolphins, who basically run out of it, the Eagles will also put it in the air. So it becomes a true run-pass option for them.

"I think different people utilize it in different ways," Tom Coughlin said. "So for what purpose I can’t tell you what their thinking is. Although when you look at the effect that it has had on the Miami offense you certainly can appreciate it.

"And when you see the various ways in which Philadelphia goes about doing it – not all on the same week – but you know that there is a plan there for what they are trying to take advantage of having thrown the ball out of it, too. Michael Vick gives you a little bit more that you have to defend."

Coughlin said the Eagles don't use it to an extent where it would get them away from their basic offensive pattern. But it's not something to be taken lightly by the defense, either.

"You stop the guy that's carrying the ball, that's all you can do," DE Justin Tuck said. "Just about everybody in the league is running it. It creates more gaps because there's more blockers in that system, but we'll practice against it. We know they're going to do it, some hopefully we'll have something ready for it."

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said the Wildcat hasn't brought them the explosiveness people had originally hoped. But it's still a work in progress.

"There hasn’t been that much of a success that everyone was expecting in the so-called wildcat offense," McNabb said. "People see Miami doing it and all of a sudden think that everyone is going to have the same success. Well, it takes time. And it is not like you have a no-name guy back there when you bring (Vick) in.

"Everyone knows what he is capable of doing. And they focus in on that. And I think there will be a lot of successful plays that we have in that package. Yet still in the regular offense we have to make sure that we are creating plays as well."

Tuck said discipline is the key to defending it.

"Just be gap-sound," Tuck said. "The thing about the Wildcat is that there's extra blocking, so there's extra gaps. You gotta get off blocks fast and try to get penetration in the backfield. Just disrupt their rhythm."

He's ready for anybody to get back there for the direct snap, too.

"They've got a lot of guys who can do it, so I don't think I'll be surprised by anybody who gets back there," Tuck said. "I think I can name five off the top of my head. With the weapons they have, the only surprise would be what they do out of it. They can do reverse passes, handoffs, fake handoffs, drop back to pass. They can do a lot of things off it. But the surprise won't be the guy who's back there.

"They can definitely catch us off-guard with trickery here, trickery there."
The only question is who will be healthy enough besides Vick. Westbrook is still dealing with his concussion and did not practice. Since he was knocked out, it is unlikely he'll play Sunday. Jackson, who sprained his foot while becoming only the second Eagle in history to run and catch a pass for touchdowns of more than 50 yards in the same game, also sat out practice, though coach Andy Reid said he would probably play.

But even with Vick alone, who hasn't exactly seen stellar success with the Wildcat -- he's run nine times for 22 yards -- there is enough to change a game's momentum with a well-placed gimmick.

It's something the defense will have to be aware of, at least.
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WR Hakeem Nicks was named the NFL Rookie of the Month for his October production. In addition to his four touchdown catches in four games, he caught 14 passes for 297 yards.

Nicks is tied for the NFL rookie lead in touchdown receptions. He is the first Giants rookie to score touchdowns in four consecutive games since Bob Gaiters scored in five straight games in 1961. Nicks is the first Giants rookie with a touchdown reception in four consecutive games since Bill Swiacki in ‘48. In addition, Nicks is the first NFL rookie with a touchdown catch in four straight games since Buffalo’s Lee Evans in 2004.

Nicks has recorded TD catches of 62, 54 and 37 yards and is the only rookie in the NFL with three 30+ yard touchdown receptions. For the season, Nicks has 16 receptions for 315 yards (a team-high 19.7-yard average). The 315 yards are second among all NFL rookies, behind only Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace (368), and the 19.7-yard average is the highest in the NFL among rookies with at least 10 catches.
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Add LB Antonio Pierce to the injury list. He sat out practice with an ankle injury, but he'll likely be fine for Sunday. Also, RB Ahmad Bradshaw went to North Carolina to have his bad ankle and foot checked out by noted ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson. No word yet on the outcome of that visit.

EP

A Couple of Rules

Just a couple of rules reminders about commenting on the blog.

First, let's stay away from any kind of profanity. We've got kids around here. I also think our commenters are intelligent enough to come up with other words to describe their emotions. We're trying to run a classy joint around here, so let's keep it clean.

Second, and this is new because there seems to be a trend developing, let's lay off the other writers/bloggers/etc. Everybody handles their job in their own way, and we all have different responsibilites. While I appreciate the support -- believe me, I can't ever get enough of that, and I love to hear it -- please recognize that the Giants press room is peopled with one of the most outstanding press corps in American sportswriting. I'd hate for this blog to become a spot where other outstanding writers are criticized and downgraded. So rip away at me if you wish, but if you have a beef with somebody else, better to take it directly to them.

The management thanks you for your kind attention and continued patronage.

EP

Canty Close?

I don't know if DT Chris Canty was giving us a good line or the absolute, nothing-but-the-truth news, but he said in the locker room today that he's so close to getting back to practice that "it's scary."

Canty said he and his injured calf did some individual drills and some "pushing and pulling with the trainers."

"We're just making sure that the power and the ability to perform is there. And it was."

Canty added that he wasn't just blowing smoke. The Giants should hope he wasn't, because they could certainly use the 6-foot-7, 304-pound defensive tackle in the middle right now, especially since Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield haven't exerted much pressure on the quarterback lately. That probably won't happen until after the bye. But getting Canty away from the trainers and back to at least limited team drills before the bye would be very encouraging for that timetable.

It's no fun being on the Ronnie Barnes scholarship program.

"I'm looking forward to missing those guys," Canty said, who added it would probably take a game or two for him to get back into the groove once he does return to drills fulltime.

Whatever the case, Canty can't wait. Here's what he had to say about that.
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EP

Repent Much, Donovan?

Don't look for Donovan McNabb to repent for his telephone antics during last year's NFC semifinal playoff game. You remember that, right? McNabb, after getting run out of bounds on an eight-yard scramble, picked up a Giants' sideline phone and pretended to call the coaching box, drawing the ire not only of the Giants, but of the officials by way of an unsportanlike conduct call.

Well, he wasn't taking anything back today. And that should add a little fuel to an already intense rivalry. But then, as McNabb said, how does one add any more emotion to Giants-Eagles.

"But in this game, do you really need any psychological motivation?" McNabb said. "I don’t think so. This is a game you dream about playing and you love competing – no matter who you play.

"We’ve played each other for years and I don’t think you need any type of motivation to play this game. If you need any little thing that happened during a game last year or years before, then really you’re not truly focused on week in and week out trying to be the best at what you do."

Asked what, exactly, he said or didn't say, McNabb said he couldn't remember.

""I don’t remember," he said. "It was a while ago. Verizon wasn’t working. There was nothing over there."

Eagles coach Andy Reid said he spoke to McNabb about it. But none of that guarantees the quarterback will keep himself in check this time around, especially if he and DeSean Jackson and company, probably minus Brian Westbrook, put an early end to things. He's drawn unsportsmanlike penalties before.

Then again, the Giants do play pretty well in Philadelphia. Nothing more humbling than the scoreboard, ya know?

EP

Practice Views

Here's a little production from practice. Note that Kevin Boss was ready to practice fully, having come back from the soreness that accompanied the big hit he took Sunday. Tom Coughlin said Kareem McKenzie would take about half the snaps as he continued to return from a groin strain.

The only person not practicing besides the big three of Michael Boley, Chris Canty and Aaron Ross was RB Ahmad Bradshaw, who was no where to be seen during the media's portion of the workout. That doesn't mean he didn't come out later. And I wouldn't read much into things if he just stayed inside taking treatment on that bad right foot and ankle, since he may have aggravated it while having it tugged on during his fourth-quarter fumble.

Anyway, here's the video. Enjoy. Oh, and that last bit is a jump drill David Merritt was running featuring safety Aaron Rouse.

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EP

Short List

Hey, the Giants are getting well. Physically, anyway.

The preliminary injury list is the shortest it's been in weeks, just five guys and Kevin Boss is not one of them. You may remember Boss was knocked woozy on a helmet-to-helmet hit in the fourth quarter and was sore the next day. But he's back to it now.

Here's the list. We'll find out more about the walking wounded later.

LB Michael Boley (knee), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot and ankle), DT Chris Canty (calf), T Kareem McKenzie (groin), and CB Aaron Ross (hamstring).

EP

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Polls Are Closed

The votes to our most recent poll are in, and a whopping 54 percent of you said the Giants' biggest problem right now is offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride's gameplan.

Of the 210 who voted before today's 5 p.m. deadline, 114 blamed it all on Gilbride, who has come under much fire from you folks over the past few years. Granted, some of it is deserved, like when he turns predictable once the offense gets close to the goal line. But, c'mon, people. Eli checks out of a run to throw a bomb out of bounds to Mario Manningham on third-and-2? That's not Gilbride's fault. Unless, of course, you're suggesting Tom Coughlin remove the ability to change a play from Manning's list of adjustments.

The secondary -- and no, we're not just talking about C.C. Brown here -- was the second most popular culprit. The DBs drew 39 votes, or 18 percent. The pass rush's ineffectiveness drew 31 votes, or 14 percent, and Manning's current spate of inaccuracy drew 23 votes, or 10 percent.

Brandon Jacobs, whose rushing problems seemed cured in a 13-carry, 76-yard, one-touchdown outing against the Cardinals, came out nearly unscathed. Only three people, a mere 1 percent of the vote, came out for him. Even Ralph Nader had a couple of more votes in his run against Obama. But Jacobs shouldn't feel bad. This poll was like one big golf game -- the fewer strokes, the better.

We'll do more polls down the road. Thanks to Wayno2424 for suggesting the poll in the first place. I don't know about you folks, but I feel just a little more American for it.

EP

Four TDs In Four Games

With Mario Manningham running imperfect routes and cornerbacks catching on to the wiles of Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks has stepped to the forefront of the passing attack, showing both good hands and outstanding athleticism. But is he ready to start?

It's a question Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride should think about, considering Nicks has become the team's most productive rookie receiver since Bobby Johnson in 1984.

Nicks has his own ideas about it, as you'll see in the video.

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Opinions, anybody?

EP

Biggest Asset

The biggest asset going for the Giants next Sunday will not come from their own locker room. It'll be from the Eagles'.

You see, Brian Westbrook probably won't be playing due to the concussion he sustained last night in the first quarter of their 27-17 win over the Redskins. A year after setting a personal best with 14 total touchdowns, including a career high nine rushing touchdowns, he remained the Eagles' most dangerous single playmaker, able to run and catch the ball out of the backfield.

Before he ran headlong into Redskin linebacker London Fletcher's knee, Westbrook had been clipping along at a 4.8-yard per carry pace.


The Giants did manage Westbrook well in their playoff loss at Giants Stadium last year, limiting him to 36 yards on 18 carries and no touchdowns. But he rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass in the regular season matchup in the Meadowlands. He was a non-factor in the Giants' Nov. 9 victory in Philadelphia. Four of his 20 career 100-yard rushing games have come against the Giants.


Not that the Giants won't have their hands full, anyway, with Donovan McNabb's mobility complemented by the occasional Wildcat formation with Michael Vick, but not having Westbrook to worry about could be a plus.

Here's a link to the play and other highlights of that game.


What do you think? Could this tilt things the Giants' way Sunday?


EP

Live Chat Friday

Just a reminder here that I'm having a live chat Friday from noon to 12:30. Hoping to see you all there to get some lively discussion going.

EP

Turnovers + Field Position = Bad Grades

That's the story as we wrap up the most recent loss to Arizona and begin looking ahead to this weekend's matchup with the much-hated Phillies, er, uh, Eagles. Kind of forgot the sport there for a second.

At any rate, the Giants have a hard week of preparation ahead of them, with about a zillion problems to correct. Bad tempo on offense, receivers who need to learn how to fight off defensive backs for the ball, coaches who need to jigger their gameplans to play into this 5-2 team's strength. It's going to be a rough week all around as the Giants prepare to face the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year, right in Giants Stadium.

Here are the grades.

QUARTERBACK: Eli Manning came into the game with three interceptions and left with six. If that wasn't bad enough, he picked up two delay of game calls to turn manageable third-down situations into third-and-longs, stopping one promising drive entirely. He wasn't particularly accurate in a 19-for-37, 243-yard day, and his lone touchdown toss was more luck than anything. This was Manning's second straight stinker. What's worse, though, is that he's grown a penchant for throwing the low-percentage deep shot when he should be looking for shorter options, or even the run game, on short-yardage situations. Those things look nice on film when they hit, but more often they wind up going long or sailing out of bounds, as his deep toss to Mario Manningham did on third-and-2 from the Cardinals' 46. He actually had a run called there, but he checked out of it to heave it long. He did the same thing against New Orleans, time and time again. He also tried to force too many balls into tight spots. Time to rein in the arm. GRADE: F.

RUNNING BACKS: Ahmad Bradshaw's late fourth-quarter fumble cost the Giants the ball at the Arizona 42 when they trailed by seven. Other than that, Bradshaw was nothing more than ordinary in a 12-for-32 night, a departure from the previous six games, where he looked like the Giants' lead back. Brandon Jacobs took back that honor with his best outing of the season, a 13-carry, 76-yard, one-touchdown outing that produced a 5.8-yard per carry average. The problem was, he wasn't used nearly enough. Jacobs needs to be up around 20-25 carries, but that's not his fault. GRADE: C-.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Hakeem Nicks made one of those Johnny-on-the-Spot catches off a deflected ball and took it 62 yards for a touchdown. He gets a personal "A" just for that. And give Kevin Boss an "A" for holding onto that 25-yard catch despite a helmet-to-helmet hit. The other guys? Meh. Steve Smith was a non-factor in a four-catch, 69-yard day. Manningham ran a bunch of bad routes. And Domenik Hixon had a sure touchdown, only to have it stolen from him in mid-air by Dominique Rogers-Cromartie in the end zone. Can't let that happen. If Hixon comes down with it, it's a different ballgame. Actually, Antrel Rolle had a similar-type interception on the Giants' last play of the game, swiping it from Smith. GRADE: C-.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Second-round rookie Will Beatty made his first career start in place of injured RT Kareem McKenzie and did a solid job. At least he didn't give up a sack, which is something that can't be said for LG Rich Seubert. That whole middle of the line looked shaky both in the run and in pass protection. The Cardinals blitzed a lot, but their front three exerted plenty of pressure on their own. They never really got into a blocking rhythm on the run game, either. GRADE: C.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Can't blame these guys for the loss. They stepped up the pass rush significantly from their no-show against New Orleans. Mathias Kiwanuka harrassed Kurt Warner and had one of the Giants' two sacks as well as two quarterback hits. Osi Umenyiora was active, as was Justin Tuck, who forced a fumble. If anything, they can be criticized for not getting all the way home enough. But they did make Warner uncomfortable in a 20-for-36, 231-yard, one touchdown day. GRADE: B+.

LINEBACKERS: When Danny Clark gets a sack, you know something's going right. Clark hadn't had one of those since 2005 in Oakland. Antonio Pierce had 10 tackles, including one for a loss. Regardless of the improved performance, this group continues to miss the athleticism and speed of Michael Boley tremendously. GRADE: B.

SECONDARY: C.C. Brown had a much-improved outing over the previous week. But he could have stood in one spot and done that. Whatever, he didn't kill the Giants. Terrell Thomas had his second interception of the season and four breakups. Bruce Johnson, playing the nickel, was a real weak spot, especially the few times he was matched up against Larry Fitzgerald. Totally outmanned in that one. Corey Webster continued a strong season with a pair of breakups on Fitzgerald, and was key in holding him to six catches for 83 yards and no touchdowns. GRADE: B.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Yikes. I never thought I'd be writing this, but Jeff Feagles was a disaster. Seven punts for a 34.4-yard average, and four straight from deep in his own territory that never traveled more than 35 yards. He blamed it on the angles he took. Maybe Steve Breaston's return ability got into his head, because Feagles is more than capable of angling out a punt 45 yards downfield. Three of those four gave the Cardinals field position near or beyond midfield. The Giants' own return game was a non-factor. A year after they had an average starting field position at the 44 against the Cardinals, they fell back to the 27. GRADE: F.

COACHING: The offense never should have gotten away from the run because the game was never out of hand. Jacobs needs to get between 20 and 25 carries per game, and the Giants need to run between 30 and 35 times. Instead, they had just 26 carries for 107 yards. Once the Giants fell behind 17-14, the run-pass ratio shifted dramatically, 22-10 over the final 32 plays. Have to even that out, especially when Jacobs is on. The defensive gameplan wasn't horrible, as Bill Sheridan made better use of the blitz and the front four got pressure. Also, good use of Kevin Dockery and C.C. Brown to double-cover Fitzgerald. GRADE: D.

Okay. Let's hear it.

EP

Monday, October 26, 2009

Something New

I know you've all been waiting for me to make my formal entrance into the feature film world. Well, here it is. In my never-ending effort to unseat Martin Scorcese as America's premier film maker, I've gone high-tech to get a message across.

In this case, I've melded together interviews from Shaun O'Hara, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Eli Manning about the agony of losing to Arizona. You may want to take a sedative before viewing the most intense minute and 40 seconds you'll ever experience.

Note the advanced cinematic effects: transitions between players, the Citizen Kane upshots, the soft lighting that creates a feeling of global numbness in the face of environmental defeat.

Okay, it doesn't really have all that. It's just three guys talking about losing the game. But you get the picture. And hey, I'm not charging $9.50 to watch.

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Moral of the story: Don't turn the ball over on two consecutive drives in the final four minutes of a seven-point game.

If you guys like the film, we'll do more down the road.

EP

Lack of Tempo

One of the biggest issues for the Giants Sunday was the tempo of the offense -- or lack thereof, shall we say. Underlining that whole problem were the two delay of game calls on Eli Manning that had Tom Coughlin rankled, to say the least.

"It was not what you want," Coughlin said. "I think it was due to the fact that we were trying so much to get ourselves into the right protection call. I don't want to play like that. I don't like it. It's not something that's new, but I don't want to be slowed down by it that much."

Manning had his own explanation, as you'll see on this video. Keep in mind that his first delay call turned a third-and-5 into a third-and-9, and the second one turned a third-and-2 into a third-and-7. The second one turned a third-quarter drive into a three-and-out, while the first one basically ended a nine-play drive that had put the Giants on the Arizona 39.

"I don't like it," Coughlin said. "There's no reason for it. There really isn't. At some point the chess game is over and you just live with what's there. "

He's had a few before Sunday, too. Just about one per game.

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EP

Boss Sore

Amid all the other issues surrounding the Giants' loss last night, here's something else. Kevin Boss was sore around the neck area, but at least he doesn't have a concussion.

Tom Coughlin said he doesn't know if Boss will be available for practice Wednesday, but the helmet-to-helmet hit that sent him for x-rays after the game did not produce a concussion.

He was impressed with the 25-yard catch that caused everything, though. Antrel Rolle hit him immediately, and high, and Boss held onto the ball despite being knocked woozy.

"He's sore today, and rightfully so," Coughlin said. "He's taken a heck of a blow and he's sore in the shoulders and the neck area. Unbelievable catch."

Kareem McKenzie, meanwhile, said he'll continue to take things day by day in his comeback from last week's groin injury. He warmed up before the game, but the medical staff told him he wasn't ready to play.

"It was very difficult watching my teammates go without me," McKenzie said. "But you have to be mature about these things. I have to deal with it the best I can. You just have to be positive about these things and take it day by day."

More coming later.

EP

Poll Alert!!!!

You'll notice on the left-hand side there's another poll, this one suggested by our regular commenter Wayno2424. It asks what the Giants' biggest problem is right now.

We'll keep it open until 5 p.m. tomorrow, so vote, vote, vote. And leave a comment on this post defending your vote.

EP

Finally, the film

Here are the highlights I promised you. There's a couple of positives in there for the Giants amid the tragedy.



A Chat?

In my never-ending efforts to learn this stuff and, at the same time, give you guys something extra, I'm going to try to have a live chat on Friday at noon. Sound good?

All you'll have to do is come to this site, and I'll have a post all set up with a software my friend Patti Traina was good enough to show me. If there's a God in heaven, we'll be chatting directly to each other, in real time.

I'll continue to throw up reminders throughout the week. But for now, start getting your questions together. I figure we'll go a half-hour, between noon and 12:30 p.m. EST. I have a feeling it'll be a lively conversation.

EP

More Medicine

I guess because of the late hour the game ended last night, there are no highlights posted yet of the Giants' 24-17 loss to the Cardinals. As soon as I find something, I'll put it up because, you know, we're all adults here and we're mature enough to know you have to take the good with the bad. Right?

For now, here are some notes from the game, courtesy of Giants.com.

And here's a question for you. Down by 10, and the Giants driving at third-and-2 from the Cardinals' 46, would you try the deep shot to Mario Manningham, as Eli Manning did on a fourth-quarter throw that ultimately went out of bounds near the goal line, or would you try to run the ball and make sure you get the first down?

That, to me, was a huge play in the game, one that the Giants have tried before with mixed results. It is a low percentage pass, after all. I like high-percentage stuff, especially when you should be trying to get the ground game going. But that's just me.

Tell me what you would do.

EP

Game 7 Summary

Well, that wasn't pretty, either, but at least the defense had some fire to it tonight. But even the Giants can't commit four turnovers and expect to win. When Eli Manning throw three interceptions, one in the end zone, and Ahmad Bradshaw loses a fumble in the final minutes, about the only result one can expect is the 24-17 loss the Giants suffered to fall to 5-2.

There is probably reason to worry now, given two losses in a row and the fact that TE Kevin Boss was taken in for x-rays after a huge hit following a 25-yard catch in the fourth quarter. The offense had no rhythm, and they failed to come up with the truly big plays. The special teams actually hurt them this game. Jeff Feagles was a big culprit, hitting four punts in a row less than 35 yards, the first three from deep in his own territory.

The only good thing to this game was the defense, which put front-four pressure on Kurt Warner. But the ex-Giant completed enough passes to counter whatever little offense the Giants produced.

For a full statistical rundown of the game, I'm linking to the NFL site so you have all the stats at your fingertips. But here's my summary.

BIG PLAYS:

Eli Manning threw a great ball to Domenik Hixon that should have gone for a 47-yard touchdown and a 7-0 first-quarter lead. If only cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie hadn't been there to spoil the party. Instead, Rogers-Cromartie went up with Hixon, got his hands on the ball, and wrestled it away for an interception and a touchback as the two tumbled into the end zone.

With the score tied at 7 late in the second quarter, Manning looked for Mario Manningham deep near the sideline. Rogers-Cromartie got his hand on that one and knocked it into the air -- right into the hands of Hakeem Nicks, who was standing about 10 yards away in an open area. Nicks took it 62 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

After fair-catching a Cardinals' punt at the Giants' 17, down 24-17 in the fourth, the offense was moving the ball. But Bradshaw, struggling for extra yards, got the ball knocked loose and lost it with just over four minutes to go. "Ahmad is an extra-effort running back," coach Tom Coughlin said. "When he does that, sometimes the ball leaves his side. He was fighting to break tackles and the ball got knocked out."

The Giants' had one last shot, having moved the ball from their 1 to the Arizona 39 as the clock ran under two minutes in the game. But his throw to Steve Smith was intercepted by Antrel Rolle, and Kurt Warner kneeled out the rest of the clock.

THE VETS:

Eli Manning: A 19-for-37, 243-yard, one-touchdown day was ruined by three interceptions.

Jeff Feagles: Seven punts for a 34.3-yard average marked his worst effort in a long, long time. At one point, he hit four punts in a row that failed to travel 35 yards. He had one outright shank of 28 yards, but said the others were the fault of some bad angles he took to assure premier punt returner Steve Breaston wouldn't get a hold of one.

Mathias Kiwanuka: He had some good pressure and had one of the Giants' two sacks on Warner.

Kevin Boss: He showed toughness in grabbing that 25-yarder that ended in what Tom Coughlin thought was a helmet-to-helmet hit. He finished with three catches for 35 yards.



THE KIDS:

Hakeem Nicks: In addition to becoming the first Giants rookie since Bobby Johnson in 1984 to catch four touchdown passes in his first four games, he grabbed four balls for a team-high 80 yards.

Will Beatty: He made his first career start in place of Kareem McKenzie and didn't do badly. He didn't give up a sack, and his block on Manning's fourth-quarter scramble bought the quarterback enough time to hit Nicks for 12 yards and a first-down on the ill-fated fourth-quarter final drive.

THE UGLY STUFF:


As much as the offense lacked rhythm, they were still close enough in the fourth quarter to continue to run the ball. Instead, they went with almost a straight passing game, putting it up seven times in 10 plays on the final drive that ended with Manning's third interception. Manning wound up throwing 37 times, while the Giants ran only 26.

The interior of the offensive line had major problems keeping out the pressure and clearing running lanes. Shaun O'Hara had a bad day, and Rich Seubert gave up a key sack.

THE MISS:


Down 24-14 in the fourth and sitting third-and02 on the Arizona 46, Manning chose to throw deep to Manningham instead of finding someone on a shorter, higher percentage pass to get the first down. Manningham caught the ball, but was out of bounds. "They had an all-out blitz," Manning said. "It wasn't a bad opportunity to try to get something down the field, just try to make a play. But it was a bad throw on my part."


THE BUMPS:

TE Kevin Boss was taken for x-rays following his 25-yard catch. No word on his condition yet.


EP

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Game

UPDATE: Manning's second-and-10 throw to Smith is intercepted by Rolle and returned to the Cardinals' 22 with 1:08 remaining. Warner will kneel out the game. Final: 24-17 Cardinals. Giants' second loss in a row. Be back in a bit with a summary.

UPDATE: Jacobs goes for nine up the middle. Manning throws incomplete, but Jacobs picks up the first down with two yards to the 39.

UPDATE: Giants have two timeouts left.

UPDATE: Beatty jumped early to move it back to the 5. Bradshaw is thrown for a three-yard loss, and then gets hit with an unnecessary roughness penalty to put it at the 1. Second-and-18. Manning hits Nicks for three, and then Smith makes a tremendous catch for 34 to the Giants' 38. Manning's trying, but his throw to Smith goes out of bounds. Manning scrambles away from pressure, then gets good blocking from Beatty to buy enough time to find come-backing Nicks for 12 and a first down at midfield at the two-minute warning.

UPDATE: Interior line needs to stand strong here. Boss just made a great 26-yard catch, getting clocked by Rolle on the way down. But Bradshaw fumbled after a sizeable gain and the Cardinals recovered at their 42. Warner hit Fitzgerald for six on second down. Third-and-4, and Fitzgerald drops it to force a punt that Hixon fair catches at the Giants' 9 with 2:52 left.

UPDATE: This game isn't over yet. Manning has engineered more than his share of come-from-behind touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.

UPDATE: Warner to Fitzgerald for 10 off a blitz. Wells went for 10 and a first down to the Giants' 44. Wells went for two. Wells for 5. Third-and-3. Kiwanuka, who is having a solid game after I critizied him during the week, got a seven-yard sack, forcing a punt that Hixon fair caught at the Giants' 17. No choice here but to score a touchdown.

UPDATE: Arizona returned the kickoff to their 31. Just something to watch when the Giants get the ball again. Safeties Antrel Rolle and Adrian Wilson are both getting worked on on the sidelines.

UPDATE: Giants are struggling as Jacobs got stopped on third-and-2. But he takes it seven for a first down on the 28, after which Manningham srops a pinpoint pass at the goal line. Manning hit Smith for 11 yards. A first-down throw to Jacobs goes high incomplete under pressure. A completion to Smith gets it to the 4, and Jacobs can't get the first down on a two-yard gain. Tynes hit a 20-yard field goal, which the Giants needed anyway, to tighten things to 24-17 with 8:14 remaining.

UPDATE: Manning took a shot on third-and-2 (questionable, anyone) and threw it out of bounds to Smith. Feagles punted to the 12 and the Giants' defense is holding. Warner's long shot to a limping Boldin (he's got that ankle, remember) goes long and incomplete. Graham's punt is brought to the Cardinals' 49 by Hixon, and then an ineligible player downfield call on the punt puts it at the 44.

UPDATE: Another lousy possession. Third-and-14 after a n illegal procedure call, but a roughing the passer call accompainies a completion to Steve Smith for a first down at the Giants' 46. Manning's eight-yard throw to Manningham ends the quarter with the Cardinals up 24-14.

UPDATE: Hixon returns to the 22.

UPDATE: A minus-2-yard completion forces a punt that Ben Graham puts down on the Giants' 19. Jacobs got a nice seven-yard run up the middle. But then he's stopped around right tackle. The offensive line has not had a stellar day of blocking or pass-protecting. Manning's second delay of game call brings up third-and-7, and then he throws an interception to Adrian Wilson on a pass intended for Jacobs, Wilson returning to the 20. Wells brings it up the middle for 15 to the 5, but then loses a yard when Blackburn stops him on a pitch right. Warner dumps it off to Jason Wright for six yards and a touchdown. Cardinals 24-14.

UPDATE: Giants benefitted from a hold and a chop block, giving the Cardinals second-and-27. GIANTS NOTE: Nicks is the first Giants rookie WR with four touchdowns in four games since Bobby Johnson in 1984.

UPDATE: That's four straight punts that Feagles has hit it less than 35 yards, and not by design, either.

UPDATE: Kick's in the end zone. Ball on the Giants 20. Manning is sacked as DT Alan Branch beats Seubert, and the Giants can't move from there. Feagles is having an absolutely horrible game, hitting this punt 30 yards to the Giants' 48.

UPDATE: Third-and-goal from the 1. Hightower took it up the middle for a touchdown. Cardinals 17-14 with 10:19 left in the third.

UPDATE: Giants are still getting pressure, but Warner hit passes of 27 and 27 to the Giants' 7, and then Wells took it to the 3. Wells went for two yards to the 1 before an Arizona timeout.

UPDATE: Feagles' punts it 35 yards to the Arizona 45. Cardinals have clearly won the field position battle so far, but the defense is keeping them from doing anything with it.

UPDATE: And we're off again. Hixon returns to the 20. Special teams is leaving something to be desired tonight. Giants start with a three-and-0ut. Not a good sign at all here.

UPDATE: Have to say the pressure is vastly improved tonight from last week. They're not getting to Warner all the time, but they're making him uncomfortable. Next thing is to knock the ball out on him.

UPDATE: Manning kneels out the half. 14-10 Giants.

UPDTE: Warner's throw goes behind Fitzgerald at the goal line, and Rackers hits a 30-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the half. 14-10 Giants.

UPDATE: Back to back timeouts from Cardinals and Giants with 0:25 left in the half.

UPDATE: Crowd's cheering DEFENSE. C.C. Brown must have heard them, as he made two nice stops in a row. It's third-and-3 from the 12.

UPDATE: I've said it before and I'll say it again. The more I see of Hakeem Nicks, the more I like him. That's four TDs in four games for him.

UPDATE: This one you had to see to believe. Manning tossed one to Manningham, who was covered closely by Rogers-Cromartie. The DB leaped with Manningham and tapped the ball, apparently for the breakup. But Hakeem Nicks was standing about 10 yards away, snatched the ball out of the air and went 61 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. But Breaston returned the kickoff to the 37 and, just before the two-minute warning, Warner found Boldin, who had beaten Bruce Johnson badly, for 44 yards for a first down at the 19.

UPDATE: Can't blame the front four right now. They're getting good pressure on Warner, but Warner's guys are adjusting well. Hightower was wide open as the heat came down on the quarterback. Hixon brings the kickoff back to the 25.

UPDATE: This offense is a disaster right now. Third-and-14 at the 13 thanks to Jacobs' four=-yard loss. Cardinals are getting pressure on Manning. Must be contagious. Feagles hit another clunker, a 33-yarder to the Giants' 46. Cardinals are moving thanks to a third-and-3 throw to Boldin for 13 yards to the 26. Warner missed Fitzgerald in the end zone, covered by C.C. Brown on second down. Giants are pass rushing, but Hightower caught one to the 13, and Wells brought it the rest of the way as he bounced away off the left side and went all but untouched into the end zone. 7-7 with 4:18 left in the half.

UPDATE: Danny Clark didn't bite on a second-down play-action and sacked Warner for eight yards, after which Hightower dropped an easy pass. Hixon fair catches on the Giants' 17.

UPDATE: Minimal movement on the possession, and then an 11-yard sack by Calais Campbell up the middle, and then Feagles shanks one for 28 yards to the Cardinals' 44.

UPDATE: Giants got good pressure from Kiwanuka on third-and-4 pass, but then Dockery almost loused up the punt as he touched it and nearly had it recovered by a Cardinal. But the defender knocked it out of bounds and the Giants have it at their 31. Dockery gets a fumble and a 0-yard return.

UPDATE: That makes eight touchdowns in 13 turnovers on the season.

UPDATE: Thomas just intercepted an underthrown pass to Fitzgerald and returned it 13 yards to the Cardinals 29. Then Jacobs takes it to the 4 behind some nice blocking. Manning missed a fade to Nicks, but Jacobs brings it in on a cutback up the middle, carrying half a team with him. Giants 7-0.

UPDATE: Do hope there's more action going on in the Yanks' game than this one. Just a lot of back-and-forth here. One turnover each, and neither did a thing with it. Wells took it 13 yards up the gut for a first down at the 25 as the first quarter runs out. No score yet.

UPDATE: A delay of game marched them back five, and a dump pass to Bradshaw lost two more to bring up a punt that Feagles knocked out of bounds at the Arizona 12.

UPDATE: This is not stacking up as a good possession. Bradshaw for no gain, and then for minus-2. They pick up five yards on an offsides call. Another offside gives them third-and-2. Bradshaw's eight-yard gain gives them a first down on the 37. Some pressure off the right side forced Manning to throw away the first-down pass. That's Beatty who got beat. Manningham makes a nice sideline catch for 20 yards to move into Cardinals territory. Bradshaw gets four on a run. Manning's doing a good job of avoiding pressure, this time scrambling for no yards, which is technically a sack.

UPDATE: Warner completed to Boldin for 18 as Thomas gambled, but loses five on an illegal formation after that for first-abd-15 from the Arizona 38. Giants haven't done a bad job defensively, and they force a punt on three Warner passes, one that went for 10 yards to Jerheme Urban. Interesting note: they had both Dockery and Brown on Fitzgerald in front-back coverage. Hixon returned the punt to the 20.

UPDATE: Jacobs broke a nice one on the cutback right up the middle, for 17 yards, and then gets six on a completion. But it all goes for naught when Manning play-actioned a beautiful throw to Hixon deep, only to have Dominique Rogers-Cromartie wrestle the ball out of his hands as they tumbled across the goal line. Arizona gets the interception and the ball at the Arizona 20. Great idea, great throw, and one of the best interceptions you'll ever see by anybody.

UPDATE: Good pressure by Michael Johnson on Warner's third-down pass forces a punt to the Giants' 30. They're doing a good job stopping the run so far.

UPDATE: Incompletion forces a Feagles punt fair caught by Breaston on the Arizona 15. Giants need to get the pass rush going, but Warner is got the ball out pretty fast on his first possession.

UPDATE: Giants are moving on completions to Manningham and Hixon, and a four-yard gain, but Diehl jumped early to bring up third-and-11.

UPDATE: Call was reversed on challenge to a fumble caused by Tuck and a recovery at the Giants' 27 by Michael Johnson.

UPDATE: Ball was returned to the Arizona 34 after a short kickoff. Breaston started it off with a 23-yard reception. Warner hits Fitzgerald for a first deown and still no sign of that pass rush. But Tuck threw Hightower for a loss on a play where the ball came loose. Coughlin is challenging the down by contact.

UPDATE: Cardinals are receiving. We'll get an immediate look at that dormant pass rush.

UPDATE: Just another note. McKenzie's missed start ends the offensive line's streak of games playing as an intact unit at 37 straight. Will be interesting to see how Beatty, the second-rounder, holds up over a whole game.

Thought I'd try something new to give you guys a little more information on the game. Here's the game page from the NFL website with a few notes and stats, just to whet your appetite for the feast that is Cardinals-Giants.

Keep the comments right here. Keep 'em clean. Keep 'em edgy. Live-blogging begins in a little over an hour, baby!!!!

EP

Inactives

Here are the inactives. Kind of a surprise to me, since he took a lot of practice this week, but Kareem McKenzie is down in favor of Will Beatty, who makes his first career start at right tackle. Sinorice Moss is also down, which gives you an idea of how low he's fallen since Domenik Hixon got back.

GIANTS:
WR Ramses Barden
CB Aaron Ross
RB Gartrell Johnson
LB Michael Boley
T Adam Koets
T Kareem McKenzie
WR Sinorice Moss
DT Chris Canty

Also not that LB Clint Sintim is active. Look for him on the situational pass rush.

CARDINALS:
QB Brian St. Pierre
S Rashad Johnson
LB Reggie Walker
G Herman Johnson
G Brandon Keith
WR Early Doucet
TE Stephen Spach
TE Dominique Byrd

EP

Keep On Clicking

Worried that Giants football and the ALCS are going to get in the way of each other? Don't. I'm here for ya. I'll be live-blogging the game, as usual, from start to finish tonight. So put the Yanks on TV and keep the computer or blackberry on so you can check in right here to keep abreast of what should be an interesting football game.

As always, feel free to comment. Just leave them right there in the game blog.

Oh, almost forgot. A special thanks to Nasty 1, who gave this blog a good plug on my friend Rick Carpiniello's Ranger Report at my old newspaper. We've had Nasty here, and I'd hope he continues to pop in with some of his friends. And if you're a Rangers type, Carp runs a heck of a blog. Check it out at http://rangers.lohudblogs.com. I do believe he'll be at Giants Stadium tonight, so I'll pass all our thanks along to him.

So remember, Yanks on TV, Giants right here for constant, real-time updates.

Later,

EP

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Game 7 Scouting Report

ARIZONA CARDINALS (3-2) vs. GIANTS (5-1)
THE TEAMS: The Giants remained atop the NFC East despite an horrendous 48-27 loss to the Saints last week. The defense allowed 497 yards of total offense and allowed Drew Brees to throw for 369 yards and four touchdowns. He completed 15 straight passes at one point, many of them at faltering safety C.C. Brown. The Cardinals have had an up-and-down year so far, losing to the weak 49ers the first week of the season but rebounding four games later to pound the Seahawks 27-3 to remain tied with San Francisco for the NFC West lead. Former Giants quarterback Kurt Warner went 32-of-41 in that game for 276 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He completed his first 12 passes. One of his two main targets, Anquan Boldin, did sprain his ankle during that game and may be less than full speed this week. The team is basically the same that went all the way to the Super Bowl last season, except that the defense is better.

THE HISTORY: Since the Cardinals moved to Arizona in 1988, the Giants have gone 13-2 in games at Giants Stadium. Don't let that fool you, however. Most of those Cardinals squads were horrible. This Arizona team is basically the same one that went to the Super Bowl last season, so the oft-used term of patsy no longer applies. "They've pretty much got the same character of guys," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "I know in past years people would say you could kind of take Arizona lightly. That's no longer the case. That's a good football team. You can throw that whole 'softness' out the window." Keep in mind the Giants' primetime history. They're 13-16-1 on Sunday nights.

THE INJURIES: Giants -- DT Chris Canty (calf), CB Aaron Ross (hamstring), and LB Michael Boley (knee) are out. T Kareem McKenzie (groin) is probable. QB Eli Manning (foot), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot and ankle), G Rich Seubert (shoulder), WR Mario Manningham (back), RB Danny Ware (elbow) and LB Antonio Pierce (back) are probable.

Cardinals -- TE Stephen Spach (ankle) is out. WR Anquan Boldin (ankle) and RB Beanie Wells (hip) are questionable. WR Steve Breaston (knee), T Levi Brown (knee), G Reggie Wells (thumb) and CB Domenique Rogers-Cromartie (finger) are probable.

WATCH THIS: You'd be hard-pressed to get me to believe anyone's air attack is more dangerous than the Saints' at this point. But the Cardinals come pretty close. For one thing, they use a lot of three and four-wide sets, which means fewer people to pass protect but more targets for Kurt Warner. If Boldin does play, Warner will have four legitimate targets at any one time, whether it be in receivers Larry Fitzgerald (35 catches, 360 yards, five TDs), Boldin (29-306-1), Steve Breaston (23-320-1) and TE Jerheme Urban (15-172-0), or any three of those and Tim Hightower out of the backfield. Hightower had 12 catches for 121 yards in the opener against San Francisco, the franchise's second-most receptions total for a running back.

Because of that, expect to see a lot of nickel, with Kevin Dockery in there, and a lot of blitzing. Certainly more than last week, when the Giants brought the extra pass rusher just 11 times on 33 called pass plays. They never got near Drew Brees, partly because of his quick delivery. But Warner holds the ball more and is a lot more of a stationary target than Brees. Teams have sacked Warner 10 times so far, and the 2-1 pass/run ratio the Cardinals have employed this year should make any guessing games on run-pass options easier. You can also knock the ball out on Warner, as shown by his 45 fumbles in 53 career games with the Cardinals. The front four of Osi Umenyiora, Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, and Justin Tuck will need to pressure hard. But to get that, Tuck could be played inside more, in place of Cofield, the better to get fellow pass rusher Mathias Kiwanuka on the field with Umenyiora and Tuck at the same time. " This game in particular because there is going to be so much three- and four-wide receiver sets, they will be out there together," defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "And I know it probably seems a little weird at times seeing any one of those three guys on the sidelines because Mike Waufle rotates them through. But in the big picture of things the plan is that they will be fresher for the long haul and they will be able to go harder when they are in there for the 35 or so snaps that each of them basically gets every game. But in this – because we are going to be playing a lot of dime and nickel, three and four wide, then the three of them will be in there collectively, sure."

Those numbers should help. But the Cardinals' offensive line is a bulky group to handle. It ranges from 305 at center Lyle Sendlein to 338 at right guard Deuce Lutui. So the going might be tough, especially in the middle. That's why Sheridan will probably dial up as many blitzes as he can while playing the nickel and dime extensively. The corner blitz with Terrell Thomas, so effective a couple of weeks ago, can be expected, as well as the safety blitz with C.C. Brown.

Speaking of Brown, he'll have to raise his game about 10 notches from last week's dismal performance, as much to find personal redemption as to help defend the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Fitzgerald. The coaches spent the week schooling Brown and the other DBs on going up to challenge passes. Fitzgerald, in addition to speed, can leap with the best of them. He had 13 catches for 100 yards last week against Seattle. So every pass Warner throws will have to be contested if the Giants, still statistically the No. 1 pass defense in the league, expect to come out of this one alive. Covering the intermediate zones will be paramount this week, since Warner doesn't often look deep. The Cardinals' longest completion so far went for 40 yards.

The Cardinals have the 31st-worst rushing offense, but that's mainly because they throw the ball so much. Hightower has three rushing touchdowns and is fast enough to get to the corner. But passing is the Cardinals' real game, and linebackers like Danny Clark and Antonio Pierce will have their hands full keeping up with him.

Eli Manning needs to have a better game than last week. But a lot of that will depend on whether a still-hurting offensive line can keep folks like 3-4 linebacker Bertrand Berry out of the backfield. Berry generally will line up over David Diehl at left tackle. Berry leads the Cardinals with three sacks, but their defense has 13 from nine players, thanks to a mixture of up-front pressure and liberal blitzing. That should open up some big-play possibilities for Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, and Domenik Hixon. Also expect to see an expanded role for Hakeem Nicks, who now has three touchdowns in three games and continues to earn field time as a third receiving option.

Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw also need good games, but that will be tough against a top-rated rushing defense that has allowed 58.6 yards per game. Part of that is because opponents are throwing a lot against them, averaging 265.2 passing yards per game on about 38 passes per game as opposed to 21 rushes. Then again, teams have fallen behind and have become one-dimensional. "Sometimes teams can get away from it because coaches get discouraged or whatever it is, they think they are wasting downs," said Jacobs, whose 3.6-yard average indicates the continuance of a tough start. "That won’t be the case here, we will stick to it. As long as we don’t have to abandon the run we will be fine. We just have to go out and prove it."

Hixon will return at kickoff and punt return after a banner day against New Orleans. Field position is a must, especially if the offense is to get back on track. And it appears Lawrence Tynes has turned a corner on his field goals, having hit his last five straight. The Cardinals counter with Neil Rackers, who is 7-for-8 in field goals.

PREDICTION: The Giants are nothing if not resilient. They've maintained an even-keeled approach to this game, recognizing the blowout in New Orleans represents just one loss. They'll come back, but this won't be easy. It could easily turn into a shootout, but the Giants win 35-27.

GUEST PREDICTION: Vinny DiTrani of the Bergen Record has been covering the Giants since, oh, forever, so he's seen his share of rebounding after horrible losses. He thinks the Giants are on their way back. When asked about returning from the Saints setback, he said, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Well, actually Clark Gable said that. What Gable's grade-school classmate Vinny said was, "Giants 24-21. They'll bounce back from a dismal Big Easy loss." But he didn't pick them to cover. That's Vincenz!

EP